Americans Are Unaware of Facial Recognition in Retail Stores

Published · Aug 17, 2021

The majority of Americans are unaware of the use of facial recognition in retail outlets, claims the consumer data research company Piplsay. Of those that do know, many believe stores should inform their customers.

The Piplsay report is based on data from 31,184 people across the United States. Multiple retail outlets, such as Lowe’s, Macy’s, and Albertsons, have rolled out facial recognition tech. The stated reasoning is that it’s a bid to fight fraud and detect theft.

60% of those surveyed were unaware of the existence of facial recognition in stores. When asked about the potential benefit of such technology, 38% said fraud and detection theft, while 14%—a better, more personalized shopping experience.

Other guesses included providing better assistance (10%) and faster checkout times (16%). The other 22% were unsure of what the benefits might be.

69% of participants believe stores should inform customers. When asked if they support the use of facial recognition, 42% said they didn’t mind it. Only 38% said “No.”

The reasoning was split between “It is an invasion of privacy” (22%) and “It can be inaccurate or discriminatory” (16%).

Getting Checked Out at the Checkout

There are some practical benefits of using facial recognition in retail spaces.

Among those is ID theft protection, as the technology allows to match the shoppers’ facial print against their credentials (e.g., credit or debit card). This would, in theory, prevent thieves from stealing or forging identities.

The concern for many, however, is transparency. Is that all the information will be used for?

Big data is already a huge—and growing—market. Background checks and people search sites already use public databases as a source of information.

Will this data find its way to them? Will every store eventually have its own database, creating more points of vulnerability for customers?

Data breaches are on the rise too. Even if the stores use that data only for fraud and theft prevention, what are the guarantees about people’s privacy?

Is it realistic to expect all vendors to have the level of digital security needed to handle such sensitive info as someone’s shopping habits?

Although it seems harmless, purchase history can reveal a lot—for example, the medication a person uses. Will it be used for targeted advertising?

All these questions and more remain to be answered. Awareness is a good first step. However, since only 40% of participants in Piplsay’s survey knew about the use of facial recognition in stores, the work of privacy advocates is not done yet.

Branko Krstic
Branko Krstic

Branko is a round-the-clock tech geek and loving it. His ideal vacation destination is the Akihabara District (or really any place he can take his computer). If there’s a server out there, count on him to find out what it’s made of… and tell you all about it.